In a Suspicious World, Creative Arabs, Iranians Are Having a Good Year

"Goats" a play by Syrian playwright Liwaa Yazji, at London's Royal Court Theatre   By Jordan Elgrably It would be comical if it were funny: Arabs/Muslims and Iranians have become the scapegoats and villains du jour. Everywhere these days, they represent everyman’s fear. In the United States and Europe, Muslims are either immigrants who are going to cause terror attacks—hence Trump’s anti-Muslim ban, and France’s new anti-terrorism statute—or they want to annihilate somebody. In Iran, after all, ayatollahs have the A-Bomb and want to rearrange the map of the Middle East. Naturally, it’s not only politicians and media outlets that feed this frenzied rhetoric. For too long now, the great mass of Middle Easterners have been vilified by Hollywood. It’s almost as if every Arab, every Muslim is a potential terrorist until proven otherwise. Continue reading

Yasmine Hamdan Rocks L.A.

“Her music felt sincerely unrehearsed in its apparent spontaneity, yet precisely prepared in its apparent flawlessness.” By Sami Asmar (photos by Derrick Lee, music editor at Modern popular music in the Arab world is a business of mass production in a standard mold. Producers bring together lyricists and composers and match them with singers, then after some studio magic, songs are out for mass consumption. There are few exceptions where the singer is a true artist who also participates in the development of the lyrics and composition to express herself sincerely. One of these exceptions is Beirut-born Yasmine Hamdan, who broke the mold and left her mark on the pop scene quickly and with style. Continue reading

Why Non-Arabs Should Read Hisham Matar’s Memoir, "The Return"

The Libyan American's memoir of his disappeared father imparts universal values By Jordan Elgrably  Who could fail to benefit from the humanization of the “other”? Do you remember the last time you saw a movie or read a book and identified with a protagonist ostensibly very different from yourself? Escaping from the narrow prism of your own consciousness, you became utterly empathic, imagining that the challenges and hardships faced by that protagonist were your own. You became that person. Empathy at this level stretches the spirit; it also is a practical antidote for depression, because getting outside yourself, you feel larger than your ego. You realize that you are not your feelings, but something much greater. Continue reading

The Persian Connection Reviewed

Daniel Y-Li Grove and Reza Sixo Safai’s New Wave neon Noir takes us for an exhilarating ride By Lauren Marcus The Iran-Iraq War (Alfred Yaghobzadeh) Former Iranian child soldier Behrouz (Reza Sixo Safai) has never recovered from his experiences in the Iran-Iraq war. Years later, a tortured immigrant living in Los Angeles, he turns to opium for relief. His addiction leads him into the underworlds of the Persian and Russian mafias. The visuals of the film are as important as the plot. Behrouz sports Robert Smith hair, a nod to ‘80s Goth, as New Wave music plays in the background of nearly every scene. This deliberate throwback to the 1980s reflects Behrouz’s inability to move past the era when he was traumatized. The screen is bathed in hues of rose, a significant color in Iranian culture. Fever-dream images of winding roads lit only by headlights, transitions from normal coloring—to pink and red-stained—to opaque magenta, then back to normal—render Los Angeles impossible to recognize, even for a native. Continue reading

50 Years After the Start of the Occupation, the “Two-State Solution” Is Dead, Says Halper

  The Markaz ReviewBy Lauren Marcus Jeff Halper, author of War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, is widely considered an icon in progressive circles. Once head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, he has been a voice against the Occupation for years. Halper grew up in Minnesota and has been living in Israel since 1973. The Israeli-American anthropologist spoke June 4th at the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeiter Ring, a Jewish Socialist center in Los Angeles, to a left-leaning crowd eager to hear his ideas for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was a guest of LA Jews for Peace and The Markaz. Continue reading

A Palestinian and a Jew Meet, Laugh at Each Other’s Jokes and Marry

  Jess Salomon & Eman El Husseini celebrate at their wedding party in Montreal.   [Editor’s Note: Stand-up comedians Eman El Husseini and Jess Salomon were presented by The Markaz in L.A. at the Pico Union Project, with comedian Noël Elgrably opening, on 3/26/2017.] By Lauren MarcusBorn in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, comedian Eman El-Husseini visited Israel only once, to perform at a comedy festival in the Palestinian territories. “In Israel, they loved me so much,” she said. “They loved me so much that they kept me at the airport for three hours.” Continue reading

From L.A. to Baghdad: American Artists Remember Al-Mutanabbi Street

Dima Hilal at Chevalier's [photo: Junichi Semitsu] By Lauren Marcus On Sunday, March 5th, we filed quietly into Chevalier’s in Los Angeles, the book lover’s emporium founded in 1940 that occupies a modest storefront on Larchmont Boulevard. On the same day, similar commemoration events were being held for Baghdad’s famed Al-Mutanabbi Street in more than 25 additional locations around the United States and across the world. Continue reading

Muslim American Artists and Activists Cope with Trump’s Dystopian Reality

Following the travel ban, a constitutional confrontation between federal judges and the White House continues while Muslims regroup. The Markaz talks to key figures across the country. an abbreviated version of this article appears in the Feb. 16, 2017 edition of The National (Abu Dhabi). By Jordan Elgrably02/16/2017 Since President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, it’s never been harder to be Arab- or Muslim-American. Amidst executive orders targeting Muslims, women’s rights and other issues dear to Democratic values, daily protests and warring words between the Trump camp and opponents have put Muslim Americans in the spotlight. While Washington State federal judge James Robart has managed to temporarily block Trump’s controversial executive order barring immigrant entry from seven Muslim countries, Muslim respondents we spoke to remain apprehensive. Continue reading

Conflict and the Search for Common Ground

a meditation on the importance of dialogue  By Jordan Elgrably  How we deal with conflict shapes many of our relationships. Nearly all relationships experience conflict at one time or another, and some of us have an almost daily diet of conflict, depending on our job description. I think it’s safe to say that most people shy away from conflict—they can do without the stress, thank you very much. Some of us, on the other hand, thrive on it. For me, there’s never a dull moment at work, which consists of heading up The Markaz, a Middle Eastern cultural center that brings together diverse groups that have experienced conflict for decades, even centuries—among them Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Armenians, and so forth. My comfort with conflict has everything to do with creative and critical thinking. If we don’t tackle the challenging issues before us, what is there left to discuss? But dealing with conflict need not necessarily be painful. With the right tools, conflict can become our friend in the search for common ground. Unfortunately, while in high school or college we learn the rudiments of debate, rarely do we learn the importance of dialogue and deep listening.   Continue reading

On Power, Palestine and Standing Rock

By Jordan Elgrably  Everywhere we look, we see epic struggles between the people and the powerful—battles for freedom and justice on one side versus domination and exploitation on the other. We have a history of it in the west, beginning with the arrival of Columbus, the conquering of the Americas and the genocide of indigenous peoples. But conquest and domination isn’t found only in the west, for we saw it with the Muslim invasions of the Maghreb, the Levant and Persia in the 7th century; and we know that scarcely a time exists without warlords and plenipotentiaries, going back to the ancient Greeks, Romans and Genghis Khan. I’ve long wondered how an entire civilization can accommodate itself to the gradual destruction of another—how the brain chemistry works when your tribe, your group, has for decades or centuries busied itself colonizing and killing another people? To us today this seems barbaric, does it not? We must feel we have come so far from the likes of Alexander the Great, Aurelius, Genghis Khan or any number of other cruel conquerors, right up to the 19th and 20th-century colonizers which includes King Leopold II of Belgium, the British in India, the French in Algeria, the Japanese in China and on and on. But of course, conquest does not have its own narrow era, nor is it limited to one subset of genetics or another. Continue reading